Erin Go Blah
In 1982, before MTV executives even thought of letting young
musicians fool around with accoustic instruments, Shane MacGowan left his
London punk group the Nipple Erectors to form the band Pogue Mahone with
banjo player Jem Finer and tin whistle player Spider Stacey.
| || Publication: The Columbia
Date Printed: April 11, 1996
By: Nicholas Kulish
The Pogues took what they wanted from the Irish fold tradition, the complicated,
beautiful melodies and the emotional, narrative song writing style, and
combined it with the fast beat and urban attitude of London punk rock. The
success of the band was almost universally attributed to MacGowan, who wrote
every original song on the first two albums. His songs were, without a doubt,
stylistically Irish folk songs, but he spoke to masses of young people in
a way that old men singing about bygone events could not - using an angry,
drunken tempo to keep them awake. The the Pogues released Rum, Sodomy,
and the Lash in 1985 (title based on Winston Churchill's off-color remark
that those three things were what kept the Royal Navy together), even hipster
icon Tom Waits declared it his favorite album.
It is now 1996, and the Pogues have proven that good bands never die. They
just stick around rehashing old material, less and less successfully, until
no one is willing to buy their records. After MacGowan left the band, the
group released the passable but disappointing Waiting for Herb. Retirement
would have been the honorable move at this point. Nevertheless, the band
has gone ahead and released their seventh full length album, Pogue Mahone,
and with it, they have reached a new low.
The album is not horrible, but as banjo player and main songwriter Jem Finer
puts it, "It's a less ambitious, rather conservative Pogues album,
all in a well-established Pogues style." He's referring to songs like
"Tosspint," one of
the best tracks on the album, but nonetheless a weak remake of "Boys
from the County Hell" (from Red Roses for Me). For every
decent song, there's a terrible easy listening pop song like "Where
That Love's Been Gone," "Love
You 'Till The End," and the disastrous "The
Sun and the Moon" (How can a band that built its reputation on
great lyrics record "the snakes they can crawl and the cheetahs they
In the past, Pogues songs featured lyrics that were tough and gritty. "I
recall we took care of him one morning. We got him out the back and we broke
his fucking balls. Maybe that was dreaming, and maybe that was real, but
all I know is I left that place without a penny or fuckall," has been
replaced with, "How come when I get the Ace of Hearts, you always get
the Ace of Spades."
The best songwriting on the album comes from drummer Andrew Ranken. "Amadie,"
a raucous tune about the maiming of black Cajun singer Amadie Adouin, has
more energy than any other track and includes a great banjo solo in the
middle. "Four O'Clock in the
Morning," a slow, bizarre song about his dying lover, shows a willingness
to break new ground and commits what is apparently a sin on this album:
It makes the listener think.
"Four O'Clock in the Morning"
also showcases new band member James McNally, whose low whistle and uileann
pipe playing give the song its haunting wuality. McNally plays these instruments,
as well as the accordion, with skill and feeling. His low whistle part on
"Oretown" saves what
would otherwise be a monotonal track. Finer praises McNally highly, calling
him an "instrumentally fantastic musician," - strong words from
a man whose worked with legendary mandolin player Terry Woods.
The real weak point on the album is the singing. Spider Stacey is firmly
established as the lead singer, doing the vocals on every track, but to
put it bluntly, his voice is weak and uninspiring. There's not a moment
on the entire album when where the vocals merit praise. Finer was also dissatisfied:
"Spider has the 'Pogues-style' voice, but does nothing special with
it. WEA (their British label) says there has to be an identifiable front
man, but I think that' rubbish."
To make a long story short, the Pogues should stop making records. They
were a special band because they played distinctive music passionately.
Now, the passion is gone and the music is nearing pure mindless pop. These
last two mediocre CDs begin to overshadow the superb music they made in
On the up side, their live show is still worth seeing. Catch them tonight
at the Supper Club. When they played the Beacon Theatre in '94, McNally
lit up the stage with his solos and acrobatics. Just pray they skip the
Copyright 1996, The Columbia Spectator
All rights reserved
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